If you go to facebook discussions , classical music forums, articles on the internet and other websites where classical music is discussed and
argued about , something which I as a classical musician naturally do every day , you can't help notice people who are either performers,
critics , scholars , teachers and others who are merely knowledgable listeners who are always longing for the "good old days"
of classical music , centuries or merely decades ago , when everything was so much better than the present day ; I just encountered
several in the past few days .
If you believe these individuals , everything was so much better in the world of classical music long ago ; most music was new , rather than
today's supposed concentration on music from the past, and a tiny fraction of it at that , when conductors were so much better than
those of today , ditto orchestras , violinists , cellists and other instrumental soloists , when orchestras supposedly had "distinctive sounnds"
rather than the way they supposedly "all sound alike" today , when standards of opera singing were so much higher , and when musicians
didn't all perform the same music the same way and performers had "real personality " and individuality ", as opposed to the "cookie
cutter" musicians of today who are all so" timid and pednatically literal ".
But in fact, there is no lack of new music today , and the classical repertoire is actually more DIVERSE than ever before .
Longing for the "golden age" is nothing new and can be found in all fields of human endeavor . The ancient Romans had a term for
someone who is always knocking the present and longing for the "good old days ". The Laudator Temporis Acti", or one who praises
bygone days . Classical music has been full of these "laudators " for as long as I can remember reading about it ; books,
magazine articles , etc , and now the internet . And I've been a classical music freak for nearly 50 years since I was a teenager !
I recently read an interesting article by an English musicologist which someone posted on facebook the other day , claiming that
we "don't perform classical music the right way " , based on research , historical recordings , writings etc .
According to this scholar , classical concerts have become rigid and formalized ; audiences were much more relaxed and casual at
concerts , and musicians didn't care about techincal perfection and avoided the pedantic literalism of interpretation which has become t
the norm today . Cincerts were fun and festive ! Musicians took risks and took interpretive liberties which are frowned upon today .
I've read numerous articles like in recent years . There may be some truth to it, but based on my decades of listeing experience to both
recordings and live performances, and countless reviews by critics in newspapers, magazines and now the internet , as well as books,
maintain that reports of the supposed "pedantic literalism " and "lack of individuality in interpretation " have been greatly exaggerated .
Why ? Because I've read countless reviews of live performances and recordings in my day in which critics mercilessly
lambasted msuicians for all the liberties they took with the music . !
Something just doesn't add up here . There's a huge paradox, and a double standard . If musicians today are so "pedantically literal ",
why have I read so many negative reviews in which the critics accused them of all manner of interpetive excesses , mannerisms
and other quirks which they PRAISE in old recordings by legendary musicians of the past ?
The legendary piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowowitz, (1903-1989 ) for example, is extolled for his interpetive flair, imagination , panache
and individuality . But one of today's most prominent piano virtuosos, Lang Lang of China , who is perhaps
the most renowned of today's classical pianists , is always being sneered at for his alleged "lack of seriousness and depth ,
superficial technical display at the expense of interpretive profundity and shameless exhibitionism " . Talk about a double
standard . Horowitz can do anything with the music he wants and critics rave , but Lang Lang shows his own flair and
individuality , and the critics blast him and refuse to acknowledge him as a serious musical artist . There are many,many
other examples of critics applying this double standard with other musicians of the present day .
Horowitz is held up as a paragon of pianists , yet Lang Lang is cynically used as an excuse to make sweeping generalizations about
how standards of musicianship have supposedly declined from the idealized past .
There have been similar brickbats handed out to to the brillianitly gifted Venuzuelan-born conductor Fustavo Dudmel, now in his
early 30s like Lang Lang , and who in the past decade or so has risen quickly into the foremost ranks of today' conductors
and is now music director of the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic . Dudamel is the most famous product of Venuzuela's
now famous "El Sistema", which has given so many poor youngsters in that country a chance to learn musical instuments and
play in numerous youth orchestras .
Dudamel is enormously gifted, charismatic , and bursting with enthusiasm . But he's no mere flashy podium glamor boy .
He's the genuine article ; a conductor who has the potential to become one of the greatest conductors in a field where conductors
often do not reach until long past youth , and elderly maestros who are still active are not at all uncommon .
But there has been plenty of critical flack , not necessarily nasty , but dismissing him as possibly haven risen to
prominence before reaching maturity as a musician .
To be a prominet classical musician today often means being damned if you do and damned if you don't . It's a no
win situation , because of those annoying Laudators Temporis Acti , or however the Latin plural goes . I don't think
I got the plural right, but you get my point .
But you can be sure that decades from now, when today's leading classical musicians are either dead or too elderly to
perform any more, people will be longing for the good old days of Lang Lang and Gustavo Dudamel, and their contemporaries
of the present day . The more things change, the more they stay the same .
The Metropolitan Opera's 2015 - 16 season will offer its usual varied operatic fare with the world's greatest singers , conductors , directors
and designers . The overall repertoire looks somewhat more conservative than usual , with no new or recent operas , but it's far from
uninteresting . There is less emphasis on 20th century operanext season than in the past several years also .
The veteran and beloved James Levine remains the Met's music director despite severe back trouble and other ailments which have
sidelined him for the past several years . But the good news is that his health seems to have improved considerably, even if he is forced
to use a motorized wheelchai in order to conduct .
There will be six new productions and a variety of other productions , some new this season . Verdi's great Otello , based on
Shakespeare's Othello will be the first new production and will open the season this September 21 st . Many consider this to be one of
the greatest of Italian operas , and it's gripping adaption of the Shakespeare play . The Latvian tenor Alexanders Antnenko will sing
the title role , and the brilliant young French -Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin , currently music director of the Philadelphia
orchestra , will conduct .
"Elektra" , a harrowing tale of the vengeful Greek Greek princess Elektra , daughter of King Agamemnon of Trojan war fame , will be
a recent European-based production by the late French opera director Patrick Chereau , and will be conducted by the renowned
Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic . The opera is not for the
faint-hearted , but you'll never forget it !
The 19th century French composer Georges Bizet is best known for his world famous opera Carmen , but the Met is reviving a much
less familiar opera of his after exactly 100 years ! It's "Les Pecheurs des Perles " (The Pearl Fishers ), an exotic tale of love and rivalrly
set in what is now Sri Lanka , formerly Ceylon . Anyone who enjoys Carmen should like this a lot .
"Roberto Devereaux " , by Gaetano Donizetti , is the completion of the trilogy of historical operas by the Italian composer
about Queen Elisabeth the first and her loves and rivalries . The other two , which will also be in the Met repertoire next season ,
are "Anna Bolena" (Anne Boelyn) and "Maria Stuarda ", about Mary Stuart . The late ,great Beverly Sills gave acclaimed performances of
these operas with the now unfortunately defunct New York City opera many years ago . The operas play fast and loose with the
historical facts but are so enjoyable it doesn't matter .
Puccini's "Manon Lescaut " was the composer's first successful opera , and is basically the same story as the slightly earlier French
opera by Jules Massenet called simply Manon . It's the story of a naive young French girl from the provinces who meets a dashing but
impecunious young nobleman while on the way to a convent and falls madly in love with him, with ultimately fatal results .
Finally , there is a new production of the strange and kinky opera "Lulu " by the Austrian composer Alban Berg , a pupil of Schoenberg .
The music is 12-tone but highly expressive . It's the bizarre story of an enigmatic young woman and Femme Fatale wo marries at least
three men in the course of the opera , each of whom dies in mysterious circumstances . In the last act, which was left uncompleted
by Berg at his untimely death but fisished by another composer many years later from the sketches , Lulu has become a prostitute
in London and is killed by none other than Jack the Ripper . The opera is decadent fun and qite approachable despite its atonality .
Other beoved operatic masterpieces in the repertoire next year will include Puccini's evergreen "La Boheme ", the thundering
melodrama "Tosca", and the exotic "Turandot ", set in ancient China ,also by Puccini .
Verdi's melodramatic "Il Trovatore ", hilariously pillaried by the Marx brother in the classic comedy "A Night at the Opera ",
and his sombre tragedy "Simon Boccanegra", set in medieval Genoa , will return . Placido Domingo , ,who has lately been singing baritone
roles in his 70s , will portray the doomed Doge of Genoa .
Rossini;s Scottish opera :La Donna Del Lago :(the lady of the lake) which had its Met premiere just last night , will return ,
as well as Donizetti's charming bucolic comedy "L'Elisir D'Amore " (The elixir of love ).
Wagner's "Tannhauser " , the tale of a medieval German troubador caught between his chaste love of a virtuous young
noblewoman and the wanton erotic goddess Venus , who keeps a lair in the German forest where she lures men , and goes off
to Rome to seek forgivemess from the Pope, will represent the German wing of the repertoire .
Even if you don't live anywhere near New York city , you can still experience Met performances live at movie theaters around the
country for much less than a good ticket would cost , as well as listen to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts which can be heard
all over America . You can stream live performances on your computer, too .
If you're planning to visit New York and have and have some free time , you can easily contact the Met's website
Metopera.org for information about tickets . There are alos plenty of DVDs of Met performances from the past available .
Attending a Met performance is a real treat ! There's absolutely nothing "stuffy or "elitist" about it . You can dress casually
and the audience has no hoity-toity rich people dressed to the nines attending for snobbish reasons . The Met audience is
made up of people who are opera fans who are just as passionate about opera as sports fans are about their home team !
And don't worry about foreign languages . You'll find a device on the seat in front of you with an English translation of the opera .
You can turn it off if you don't want it . But I definitely recommend it if you're new to opera .
In addition to being a place where you can see videos about news ,politics ,science, religion and virtually any subject in existence , as well as
pop music , Rock music , Jazz and what have you , Youtube is a fantastic way to experience classical music in all its endless varity .
You can hear recordings of music by virtually any composer of any period or nationality , ranging from ancient works written over four or
five centuries ago to recent works by contemporary composers . It's all there for you to experience at the click of a mouse !
There are also live concerts and opera performances , or individual pieces from concerts and excerpts from live opera performances .
Just put the name of any composer or perfoming musician on the youtube search engine and you can hear virtually anything you want !
If you want to hear recordings by such legendary musicians as Leonard Bernstein , Luciano Pavarotti , , Maria Callas , Aerhur
Runinstein , Vladimir Horowitz , Jascha Heifetz , Mstislav Rostropovich , Pablo Casals , Leopold Stokowski and others , their
recordings and in some cases live performances are right at your fingertips .
You can also see complete live performances of a wide variety of operas taken from such great opera houses as the Metropolitan opera ,
La Scala ,Milan, the Royal opera of London , the Paris opera , the Berlin State opera , the Vienna State opera , the Bayreuth Wagner festival
the Bavarian State opera in Munich , and elsewhere . You can hear legendary singers from the past such as Enrico Caruso ,
Feodor Chaliapin , Rosa Ponselle , Kirsten Flagstad ,Lauritz Melchior and others sing arias and other operatic excerpts on old recordings .
You can also sinteresting documentaries on such great composers as Wagner, Verdi , Beethoven and others .
Many of the world's greatest orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Royal concertgebouw orchestra of
Amsterdam , the Boston symphony and the New York Philharmonic and others have their own youtube channels .
Each video usually shows the performers of the recording , conductor, orchestra , record label etc, so if you hear a recording you
really like , you can get it from amazon.com or other websites . The sound may not be quite as good as on a CD you purchase, ,
but it's good enough .
Some of the classical music channels you can subscribe to on youtube are Addio BelPassato , Composer Corner , Goodman Musica, Il
Gruppo Di Docci , Unsung Masterworks , Classical Vault , 1 or 2 , IN Contrario Motu , to name only a few .
You can also e mail these performances to anyone or send them to facebook or twitter . If you register with youtube, you can leave
comments on any video on the site unless youssee the comments are closed sign . You will also receive replies to your comments .
Well, what are you waiting for ?
I didn't see last Sunday's Grammy Awards on television last Sunday as I was busy with other matters . But as a classical musician I'm always
curious to find out the winners in the classical recordings category . Among these were a recent CD of the atmospheric orchestral piece
"City Noir " , which evokes the dark and seemy film noir underworld of Los Angeles , with David Robertson and the St Louis
symphony , and "Become Ocean , " by John Luther Adams (no relation ) , which seeks to portray a world in which global warming has caused
sea levels to cover the earth , with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle symphony .
The venerable if highly controversial French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who turns 90 in March and who has won a number
of Grammy awards , received a lifetime achievement award for his long and distinguished career .
But unfortunately , these classical Grammy awards rceived short shrift on television . They apparently did not even appear on the show
as they had many times in the past and were announced off air before the show . The days when the classical awards actually
appeared on the show and were announced by renowned classical musicians seem to be gone . This appears to be part of the
overall marginalization of classical music in America . Decades ago , renowned classical musicians such as Leonard Bernstein and others
actually appeared on the cover of Time magazine ; today , this would be extremely unlikely .
How and why did this happen ? There are no clear cut answers . Those in charge in the Grammy awards and television executives
seem to think that classical music just doesn't sell in America . Is there any way to reverse this pernicious trend and make classical
music more visible to the overall public in America ? Who knows ? But we've got to hope so .
The world of classical music was stunned by a bombshell this morning when the New York Philharmonic announced that its current music
director Alan Gilbert , 47 , will leave his prestigious but extremely demanding position as its music director at the end of the 2016-17 season .
Gilbert began his tenure with the orchestra in 2009 , after some years at the head of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in Sweden and
the Santa Fe Summer opera festival in New Mexico , as well as conducting many of the foremost orchestras of Europe and America as
The Juilliard trained Gilbert is the son of two violinists in the orchestra , his Japanese born mother still being a member . He came to
the orchestra to succeed the late Lorin Maazel , who passed away last year at the age of 84 . Gilbert was something of a dark horse
in the search for a conductor to take over after Maazel ; he had already had a distinguished conducting career but was not as high profile
as many of the potential candidates .
The Philharmonic administration hoped he would bring youthful brilliance and innovative programming to the orchestra , which had
however already played a wide variety of new music under previous music directors and guest conductors over the years .
Gilbert proved to be a staunch champion of new music by a wide variety of contemporary composers of varying nationalities and
compositional styles , In addition , he championed works by lesser known but outstanding composers .
Gilbert initiated bold projects such as a concert performance of the phantasmagorical surrealistic opera "Le Grande Macabre ", by the
late Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti and concerts of unusual repertoire at the Armory in Manhattan . There was also a musical
Biennale , a festival of contemporary music comparable to the Biennales for art in Venice , to name only some of the adventurous
projects initiated by Gilbert . Of course, the orchestra continued to perform the beloved staples of the orchestral repertoire by Haydn, Mozart,
Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov et al . But no one could accuse the orchestra of sticking exclusively to the
tried and true .
Critical reaction to Gilbert's performances has been favorable on the whole, but there were always musical snipers who complained
about this or that , finding fault with his performances for this or that reason . This comes with the job in any major orchestra .
Being music director of the New York Philharmonic is probably one of the most thankless jobs in classical music .
Eminent conductors such as Leonard Bernstein , Pierre Boulez , Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur , Lorin Maazel and others have been
subject to constant critical drubbing for this or that reason . Interpretive style, choice of repertoire , you name it .
It's impossible to please everyone .
In just one day , there has already been considerable speculation on on possible conductors to replace Gilbert . It won't be an
easy task by any means , and never is with a major orchestra . Some conductors might be a good choice , but have taken up other prestigious
posts with other orchestras , and it;s unrealistic to expect them to be lured to New York so early into there tenures elsewhere .
Other conductors might be either too old to have the vigor to take up such a great responsibility so late in their careers, and others
are too young and inexperienced , as talented as they are . Thre has even been talk about appointing a woman conductor,
which would be unprecedented for one of the so-called "big five " orchestras in America (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia,
Boston , Cleveland ).
And of course, it must not be a conductor who has never appeared as guest , because this would be like getting married to
someone you had never met . The orchestra will not stand for a conductor it does not like and respect musically .
Gilbert has decided to step down before the scheduled renovation of Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center, formerly known
as Philharmonic hall , which has been plagued by problematic acoustics since its opening in 1962 . This is tentatively scheduled to begin in
2018 , and the Philharmonic will have to find temporary residence somewhere else in New York .
There is no way to know now who the next music director will be . But the search will be as interesting as it is difficult . Let's all hope for the
A kind of musical mystique surrounds the chamber ensemble known as the string quartet - two violins, one viola, a cello . It's one of the most
rarified and esoteric genres of classical music , not something as immediately appealing and colorful as opera or orchestral music ,
but something which is highly rewarding to listen to if you give it a chance .
Of course, there are various other combinations of instruments in chamber music , such as the piano trio , consisting of violin, cello and piano ,
quintets with a string quartet and a piano , etc , woodwind quintets, consisting of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and french horn ,
brass quintets , consisting of two trumpets , one horn, two trombones , or one trombone and a tuba , and various miscellaneous ensembles
mixing strings, woodwinds and brass , amd others . But for some reason, the string quartet has been one of the most prestigious
musical genres , and many of the greatest composers have written them , including Haydn, founder of the form , Mozart,
Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms , Dvorak , Tchaikovsky , Mendelssohm , Smetana , Bela Bartok, Shostakovich , Charles Ives ,
Elliott Carter , and others have written memorable ones .
Haydn wrote about 80 of them , , and Beethoven 16 . These, particularly the late ones, are considered to be some of Beethoven's most
personal and profound works . A symphony might be said to reflect a composer's public proclamations, but a string quartet is reserved for his
most intimate and private thoughts .
In the 18th and early 19th centuries , the structure of a typical string quartet is very similar to that of a symphony ; four movements ,
sometimes with a slow introduction to a relatively lively first movement in sonata form , a dignified slow movement , a lively minuet for the 3,
and a vivacious finale which is also in sonata form .
Beethoven, in the sublime and rather enigmatic late quartets he wrote not too long before his death in 1827 , experimented with unorthodox
structures, such as his radical 14th which consists of seven movements played without a break .
Some of the most notable string quartets of the 19th century are those byBrahms , Dvorak , Thaikovsky , the Belgian Cesar Franck ,
and the Czech Bedrich Smetama, best known for his comic opera "The Bartred Bride ".
Yje 20th century is particularly rich in string quartets , some of the most notable being the six of the great Hungarian Bela Bartok
(1881 - 1945) , and the 15 of Dmitri Shostakovich . Those of Bartok are steeped in the influence of the folk music of Bartok's native
Humgar They are highly pungent and spiky harmonically , though not unpleasant, and may take repeated hearings to grasp .
Those of Shostakovich are brooding commentaries on the grim life inside the formewr Soviet Union and the horrors of the senond
world war . They are extremely intense and even harrowing at times .
IN America , the late Elliott Carter (908 - 2012 ) wrote five highly complex and abstract quartets which are truly challenging to the
listener and definitely not for newcomers to classical music . They are some of the most thorny and uncompromising music you will
ever hear .
Among the most famous string quartet ensembles , active and defunct are the Emerson quartet , the Juilliard quartet,consisting of
string faculty members of the Juilliard faculty , the Budapest quartet , the Amadeus quartet , the Tokyo quartet,
theGuarnieri quartet , to name only some . There is a welath of recordings of string quartet repertoire on CD , and a good place
to order them online is arkivmusic.com, which specializes in classical CDs and DVDs and has a fantastic selection overall .
The modern day symphony orchestra , which resides in a concert hall all year around except for touring , and which plays a different program
every week from approximately September until May or June with a music director (its chief conductor) and a variety of guest conductors , bears
little resemblance to the early orchestras which existed in the 18th century when Mozart and Haydn lived .
Both consist of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion , but the orchestras of the 18th century were much smaller ,often consisting of only
about 20 to 40 musicians , although larger ones were used on occaision when more musicians were available . In addition to the strings, which
which were fewer in number than a modern orchestra , the woodwinds usually consisted of pairs of woodwinds, flutes, oboes , and bassoons .
The clarinet did not come into existence until relatively late in the 18th century, and Mozart was the first major composer to use them .
The brass consisted of two horns and two trumpets ; Trombones did not make their appearance in the orchestra until Beethoven's 5th
symphony in the early 19th symphony . The tuba ws not invented until well into the 19th century .
5th also . Beethoven also introduced the piccolo and the cavernous-sounding contrabassoon in the 5th symphony .
There were tympani , , but the only well known 18th century symphony to use other percussion instrumentssymphony of Haydn ,
no 100 in his catalogue of 104 !
In the 19th century , many orchestras were ad hoc groups assembled by composers such as Mozart to perform their music . Others were
supported privately by th aristocracy for private perfornaces , such as the one which Haydn had at his disposal as Kappelmeister(music
director ) for the music loving Hungarian count Eszterhazy on his remote family estate .
In the 19th century , some orhestras of opera companies, such as the Vienna Court opera , now the Vienna State opera , formed concert
orchestras for public concerts . The most famous of these is the great Vienna Philharmonic, which still consists of members of the Vienna St
opera orchestra .
In the 19th centtury , with the advent of great composers of the Romantic period such as Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky , Bruckner and
others , the size of the orchestra grew . Four rather than two horns became the norm, and the use of three or even four trumpets became
a regular feature of the brass section . The piccolo became more common , as well as the English horn, amd the bass clarinet was now used .
In addition to the usual tymapny, cymbals, snare and bass drum and other percussion instruments were no longer rarities , and the size of
the string section grew . Public concerts were now the norm with a resident orchestra in a given city .
QWith the adven of the 20th century and great composers such as Mahler, Richard Strauss and others , normous orchestras were sometimes
used , with a hundred or more musicians . The sizze of the brass section sometimes grew to eight horns, or six, four or even more trumpets,
dfour trombones and even two tubas , with woodwinds now quadrupled or even quintupled, and a wide variety of different percussion
instruments, and a huge string section . Exotic instruments such as the Heckelphone, a kind of baritone oboe even lower in pitch than
the English horn, Wagner tubas, which had been invented by Wagner for his Ring operas were sometimes used . In a section of eight horns,
horns 5-8 would periodically switch to the Wagner tubas , which are a sort of cross between a tuba and a French horn .
By the 1040s , composers such as the mystical Frenchman Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) began to use electronic instruments in the
weird-sounding , unearthly Ondes Martenot and others .
Nowadays , orchestras play a wider variety of repertoire than ever before ; the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart are still very much with us ,
and orchestras sometimes perform the music of such baroque greats as Bach and Handel, although period instrument groups seem to
be coming closer to a monopoly on this repertoire .
The mumber of orchestras in Europe, America and elsewhere also increased greatly over the years . There are now thouands of them, not
only in Europe and America , but all over Asia , in Japan, South Korea , China , Australia , and every continent except for Antarctica !
The core repertoire of belove masterpieces by Beethoven, Schubert,Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky ,
Berlioz, Debussy, etc is the meat of the repertoire , but many interesting long neglected works have been revived , and music by such 20th
century masters as Stravinsky , Shostakovich , Prokofiev, Bartok , Copland , Samuel Barber , Sibelius , Ravel , and others is quite popular .
Despite the usual compalints , there is absolutely no lack of new or recent works by the likes of John Adams, Philip Glass, William Bolcom,
Thomas Ades, (ad-ess), Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwel Davies, Tan Dun, ( a native of china living in New York) , Jennifer
Higdon , Kaaia Saariaho (both women ) , and many other contemporary composers . (Henze died a few years ago but his music is stillwidely
In the course of any given season , a major orchestra will play an enormous varitey of repertoire . The symphony orchesta has been
evolving for nearly 300 years , and there is no sign that is is in any way stagnant or irrelevant . Who knows what the future will bring for it ?
Today , January 27 , would have been the 259th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , one of the greatest names in classical music . Child prodigy , pianist, violinist , composer , childlike jokester and prankster , amiable weirdo . An incomprehensible genius who began composing as a small boy , took the aristocratic courts of Europe by storm , but often frustrated and disappointed as an adult when he had to earn a living as a composer and perfroming musician .
He was the son of Leopold Mozart , a well known violinist , pedagogue , conductor and composer in his own wright , who taught him everything he knew about music , but who was surpassed by his own son , who was born in the picturesque town of Salzburg Austria in 1756 ,which still honors its most famous native son year round . Mozart showed an astonishing talent as bith a composer, pianist and violinist from childhood, and Leopold realized he had a cash cow in his on son , whom he expolited by sending him on tours all over Eurpe under his guidance .
When he grew up , Mozart still coveted recognition for his astonishing talents , but was no loger a child prodigy . He was forced to accept employment in his home town as a composer of sacred music for the Archbishop of Salzburg , whom he disliked , and felt confined in provincial Salzburg . But for th last decade of his life, he moved to Vienna, musical capitol of Europe, and was able to earn a steady living as a freelance composer and pianist , iViennese musicians to put on concerts of his own music ,playing his many piano concertos and his symphonies and operas .
The story that he died a pauper, unappreciated by the cruel Viennese is an urban legend ; he actuially did very well , but ran into serious financial difficult8ies because he enjoyed gambling and the good life . He died in 1791 , leaving his famous Reuiem mass unfinished . It was soon completed by one of his pupils, and this version is still widely performed and recorded . The musical world has been speculating on what divine masterpieces he might have written if he had lived longer, but this is futile . In his 35 years , he composed over 600 works in all musical genres : symphonies, concertos for piano, violin, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn ; 22 operas, some of which were left in ncomplete form ; no fewer than 27 piano concertos , Masses, assorted sacred choral works, serenades, divertimentos, etc, songs , string quartets, , piano sonatas, violin sonatas , you name it .
Unfortunately , many people have only a superficial familiarity with his music, knowing a few of his most famous works ,or even just a handful of famous melodies by him . But you shouln't take these few works for granted when you can hear all of them on CD . Not that you need to , because not everything by Mozart is a sublime masterpiece . He wrote some works as potboilers ; nothing wrong with this .
But if you don't know his music very well , you should at least familiarize yourself with his greatest operas "Don Giovanni", Le Nozze Di Figaro ,(the marriage of Figaro ), Cosi Fan Tutte (So do they all ), and Die Zauberflote , or the magic flute . Plus his last six symphonies out of41 numbered ones, 35-41) , the piano concertos 20-27, violin concertos 3,4 and 5, the four horn concertos , the clarinet concerto, the Requiem , some of his piano sonatas , and some of his string quartets to start .
The so-called "Eine Kleine Nachttmusik ", is very pleasant, but not one of his greatest works . It doesn't mean "A little night music" in the sense of listening to a little bit of music . Nachtmusik means a seranade in German, and means "Night Music ". It means " A Little serenade ".
But you'll never regret getting to know Mozart's music better ! One note : Enjoyable as it is, the famous movie "Amadeus" plays fast and loose with the facts of Mozart's life . Don't take it too seriously .
HIP stands for "Historically informed performance " , that is, using the musical instruments of the past , or replicas of them , to perform the music of such great composers as Bach , Handel , Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven , and now even the composers of the 19th and early 20 th century . And music of earlier composers such as Henry Purcell , Claudio Monteverdi and others , who lived before the 18th century .
Not only using the old instruments , but carefully studying the differences in playing technique style of interpretation , and dutifully following what musicologists and other scholars believe to be " correct performance practi , that is not just playng the notes as written , but inflecting them in a style considered to be "authentic ". For example, embellishing melodic lines with all sorts of unwritten ornaments . Merely to play the notes as written written is to completely misunderstand the composer's intentions . This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learmnng the ropes of the period instrument movement .
A number of composers form the past have left treatises on how they felt music should be interpreted , and these are extremely valuable . But we still don't know exactly what the music sounded like or exactly how musicians interpreted it , or what long dead composers would or would not have approved of when it comes to performing their music . A time machine has yet to be invented . If only we had one !
Among the differences between the old instruments and the familiar modern ones are the use of strings wound from animal guts instead of the steel ones which became standard in the 20th century . These sound mrkedly different from steel strings . Also, string players on old instruments use little or no vibrato , although we know that some vibrato was used in the past . Some HIP musicians and conductors have become overzealous and musically pridush and avoid vibrato altogether .
Flutes were made out of wood , making them sound somewhat more like recorders than the metal ones used by 20th century flutists . They, plus the oboes, bassoons nd clarinetsw, are much simpler and have fewer keys to press .
Horns and trumpets are natural, that is, lacking in valves . This means that every time you play in a different key, you have to use a different crook , or length of tubing , to change the key in which the instrument plays . Composers were limited in the melodic lines they could write because of this . The tympny, or kettle drums, have leather rather than metal sufaces for the tympanist to strike with the mallet, making them sound somewhat different .
Harpsichords are more commonly used than before, as well as early pianos , which sound quite different and less aggressive than the modern concert grand . Orchestras and solo pperfomers an chamber ensembles tune to a somewhat lower pitch , usually about a quarter to a half tone lower . If you are blessed or cursed, with perfect pitch , a piece in C major may sound to you like one in B major !
So why do I ask whther the movement ot perform music on period instruments is a kind of musical religion ? The reason is that many HIP musicians aare convinced that THEY are performing the music the right way , and are recreating the music exactly as it sounded in the past . Not all of them . Some have the humility to admit they can't be sure . Some prominent music critics and distinguished musicologists have a similar kind of arrogance .
Many of thes HIP tend to look down on musicians who use modern instruments as "uninformed " about correct performance practice and the whole HIP movement, which is not necessarily the case . You might look on the HIP musicians as the true believers who think they have the one true musical religion .
There are some musicians who look down on the whole HIP movement and dismiss it as nothing but musical pedantry and dismiss it as worthless . Among these are such world famous violinists as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman , and the late conductor Lorin Maazel ,who past away less than a year ago . You might call these the musical atheists .
Then there are those like myself, who find the movement very interesting and have liked SOME but not all HIP performances I have heard . WE don't know how authentic the performances are . WE are the agnostics .
Some of the leading conductors of period instrument orchestras are the Austrian Nikolaus Harnoncourt , the Englishmen Sir Roger Norrington , Christoher Hogwood , who also passed away last year , the Dutchman Frans Bruggen, , also deceased last year , , the Englishman Sir John Eliot Gardiner , and the Englishman Nicholas McGegan . They also conduct prestigious mainstream modern instrument orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw orchesta of Amsterdam , and others , generally trying to come as close as possible to imitating the old style of playing as possible . The Englishman Sir Simon Rattle, music director of the great Berlin Philharmonic , sometimes conducts period instrument orchestras .
Some of thes perido inswtrument orchestras have colorful names as " Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment," the Orchestre Revolutionaire & Romantique ", " The Academy of Ancient Music " etc .
There are also instrumental virtuosos of period instruments who are active as soloists , such as violinist Andrew Manze aof England and Surch cellist Anner Bylsma , to name only a couple .
More recently, the HP movement has been applied to later composers such Wagner, Berlioz, Schumann , Brahms , and even Bruckner and Mahler . It has now moved up to Debussy, Ravel, and Stravisnky, believe it or not ! But the later you go, the less difference there is between period and modern instruments .
if you're not familiar with period intruments , there are an enormous number of recordings on them by the musicians I mentioned and many others . Listen , and decide for yourself whether you like them or not ! At least no one has ever killed other people over the kind of instruments they use !
This year marks the 150 th anniversity of the the birth of two great Scandinavian composers , Jean Sibelius of Finland and Carl Nielsen of Denmark . Sibelius is the better known of the two to the concertgoing public , but Carl Nielsen of Denmark has been steadily gaining more recognition . Nielsen died in 1931 and Sibelius in 1957 . Both composers knew and admired each other , but their music is vastly different .
Jean Sibelius put the small nation of Finland , which had long been ruled by Sweden and Russia at different times, on the musical map , and while Nielsen was by no means the first Danish composer to achieve some reputation in his country , he was the first truly great and original one . Both were greatly honored in their native countries , but Nielsen did not become well known outside his native Denmark and Sweden until many years after his death .
The music of Sibelius, on the other hand , was widely performed outside of Scandinavia during his long lifetime , and his orchestral works ,including seven symphonies, a violin concerto and assorted highly descriptive works evoking the folklore and colorful wild landscapes of Finland , were championed by such great conductors as Serge Koussevitzky, Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli and others . But Nielsen's quirky , strange and highly individual music was almost totally unknown in America until Leonard Bernstein discovered it in the 1960s while music director of the New York Philharmonic and began to perform and record it . And since then, many other leading comductors have perforned and recorded his music .
Nielsen is best known for his highly original six symphonies, the delightful woodwind quintet , and his delightfully weird his clarinet concerto ,but he aso wrote a number of symphonic poems , concetos for violin and flute, , various choral works , piano pieces , songs , and two operas etc . Sibelius also wrote numerous works for piano even though he was a violinist, not a pianist . Nielsen was also a violinist , and both composers were also active as conductors .
The orchestral works of Sibelius are often brooding , mysterious and full of misty colors ; the music of Nielsen is robust , extroverted , muscular , filled with bright colors and unlike the Finn , even witty and humorous at times . Nilesen's music, particularly his later works , are much more harmonically adventurous and even approach atonality at times .
According to Leonard Bernstein, one characteristic of Nielsen's music is its "total unpredictability ". His music is always full of surprises . For example, the two sets of battling antiphonal tympani in the finale of his tumultuous 4th symphony, subtitles "The Inextinguishable" , and the passage in the 5th symphony where the snare drummer is instructed by the composer to imprivise his part, flailing away madly as though he had gone berserk , with no regard for what the rest of the orchestra is doing ! In the flute concerto , a bass trombone acts as a kind of heckler to the solo flute !
Some of the most important works of Sibelius are based on the ancient epic of pagan Finnish history the Kalevala , with its gods, heroes, sorcerors and magic spells . The Kalevala has been translated into many different languages, including English , and is well worth reading . These include the early choral symphony "Kullervo ",, which the composer suppressed and which was not perfomed until the 1970s, the "Four Legends from the Kalevala ", the most famous part being the haunting "Swan of Tuonela ", with its portrayal of a swan wandering through the gloomy waters of the Finnish Hades , uding an English horn as soloist .
One of the last works of Sibelius is the harrowing Tapiola" , a chilling description of the wild winds and storms of the Fiinnish forests . Tapio is the Finnish god of the forests . For some reason, Sibelius seems to have burned out as a composer for the last 20 years of his long life , producing almost nothing and destroying a number of works he had written . There were rumors of an 8th symphony , but it was either never never completed and left in fragmentary sketches or possibly destroyed by the composer .
Sibelius lived a rather isolated life in his home "Ainola" , named after his wife Aino ( pronounced I know ) , sometimes receiving visitors and listening to performances of his music over the radio . Ainola lies not too far from the Finnish capitol Helsinki , and you can still visit it .
Carl Nielsen died of a heart ailment in 1931 at the height of his powers as a composer . But you should not miss the music of either composer . There are numerous recordings of the symphonies and other orchestral works of these two Scandinavian giants by such great conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein , Serge Koussevitzky , Paavo Berglund, Herbert Blomstedt, Neeme Jarvi , and many others , and most of the greatest violinists of the 20th century have recorded the violin concerto .
Why is it that you can attend concerts and operas led by conductors who are still active at an age when many people are confined to nursing homes ? The legendary maestro Leopold Stokowski (1882 - 1977 ) led his last concert at the age of 90 with the London symphony orchestra ! And after this, he continued to make recordings in his native England with a hand-picked orchestra of some of the finest orchestral musicians in England for a few years until his death at the age of 95 !
Other renowned conductors who remained active into their 80s include Aeruro Toscanini (1867-1957 ) , Sir Adrian Boult (1889 -1983), Bruno Walter ( 1876-1962) . Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) , Eugene Ormandy (1899 - 1985 ) , Ernest Ansermet ( 1883 - 1969) , Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973) , Kand Karl Bohm (1894-1981 ).
In recent years , Kurt Sanderling (1912 - 2011 ) , Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005 ) Sir Colin Davis ( 1927-2013), , Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) , and others have been active for a very long time . Also Julius Rudel , 1921-2014) , and Charles Mackerras (1925- 2010 ). Pierre Boulez (1925-), Kurt Masur(1927- ) and Michael Gielen (1927 - ) are still alive but have retired due to declining health .
But Stanislaw Skrowaczewski of Poland (1923- , and Sir Neville Marriner (1924 -) are still on the podium ! Other renowned conductors who are still active in their 80s are Gennady Rozhdestvensky , Raymond Leppard , Christoph von Dohnanyi , and Herbert Blomstedt .
How do they manage to keep their health up at such advanced ages ? The gestures of conducting are a kind of aerobic exercize ! Swinging your arms for hours on end at rehearsals and performances seems to keep your ticker healthy . It's also very physically tiring and puts you at risk of ailments such as bursitis .
Some conductors are more strenuous and ostentatious in their gestures than others ; Leonard Bernstein was famous , perhaps even notorious for his apparent leaping and dancing on the podium , and Pierre Boulez just seems to stand there passively beating time with the most sparing gestures , for example . But it all seems to keep the body able to withstand decades of conducting .
But it seems to me that another reason for the longevity is the the way conducting requires you to be extremely alert at all times, whether at rehearsals or performances , thus keeping the brain and mind from deteriorating . A conductor has to be extremely aware of what the musicians ,or singers if conducting opera are doing ; he has to correct mistakes , keep the orchestra together, make sure everybody is playing in tune , and know how he wants the musicians to play . And anything can happen during a performance ; opera singers can make mistakes , getting ahead or behind the orchestra , and anything can go wrong no matter what you are conducting .
Working with the world's top orchestras and opera companies may seem like a glamorous job, but it's a very tough life !
The demise of the beloved New York City opera in late 2013 is one of the saddest stories in the recent history of classical music It had been founded in 1944 with the support of legendary New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia , who was a great opera fan , as a far less expensive alternative to the glamorous but pricey Metropolitan opera , and was billed as "The People's Opera ."
From its modest beginnings , it grew to be a fixture of the incredibly rich and diverse classical music scene in New York . It couldn't afford to engage the most famous and glamorous opera singers of the day , or offer sumptuous sets , which were the norm at the glamorous Met, which was supported by wealthy people and corporations , but in its own plucky way was still able to offer quality opera at prices people could afford .
A talented and ambitious young Austrian musician and budding conductor by the name of Julius Rudel, who died last year at the age of 93 , went to work for the company , and eventually became its music director and manager , worked mightily to attract the best singers possible . By the mid 1060s, the company , which had its home at the City Center , which still exists , moved into what was then called the New York State theater in Lincoln center , next to the Met .
Such legendary singers as the late Beverly Sills ,Placido Domingo, bass Norman Treigle and others turmed the company into one which could offer worlf class performances , encouraged by maestro Rudel . The Met had moved from its old home , which was soon demolished , into the Lincoln center the same year . The reprtoire of the two companies was very different , all though there was some overlap . The Met concentrated on sumptuous productions of standard repertoire operas by Verdi,Puccini, Mozart, and Wagner etc , while the NYC opera did much more unusual repertoire, by composers ranging from the time of Handel in the early 18th century to new or recen toperas . In recent years , the Met's repertoire has become much more diverse and adventurous .
Beverly Sills and thelate bass Norman Treigle triumphed in a new production of Handel's then rarely performed "Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesr ) , before the operas of Handel became popular worldwide . This was recorded for RCA records and is still available .
But unfortunately, serious pronlems began to plague the company several years ago . The New York state theater, which had been renamed the David H. Koch theater becuase of generous financial support by the now notorious Koch brothers, had to go silent for a whole season when the theater went through extensive renovations to improve its problematic acoustics and redesign the auditorium No alternate venue was found for the company to perform . Much revenue was lost , and the company was forced to abandon the Koch theater, which is also the home of the New York City ballet . Critics agreed that the acousitcs were now improved , but the company was forced to assume a nomadic exstence, going to various theaters in New York to perform . There were fewer performances and productions per season , and large scale operas were out of the question .
Ther noted Belgian opera impresario Gerard Mortier, who died recently , and who had been the manager of several important Europran opera houses as well as the renowned Salzburg festival, was engaged to become general manager , but resigned before taking over because he could not get the generous government subsidies which were taken for granted in Europe , leaving the company in the lurch . In October 2013, the company declared bankruptcy and has yet to be revived .
A number of welathy individuals are currently attempting to revive the company , but the situation still looks grim . Virtually all the major European cities have two opera companies, some even three . This is a shameful situation . New York is one of the world's foremost centers for classical music . There are still a number of smaller companies in New Yorkm but they are forced by finances to limit themsleves to small scale operas , some of them quite interesting . The Juilliard school, the Manhattan school of music and the Mannes college of music also offer high quality performances with some of the most talented and promising young vocal students in the country . The Opera orchestra of New York offers concert perfomances, that is, without sets or costumes , of operas which are rarely perfomed today . So all is not lost . But New York just isn't New York wityhout the NYC opera .
The title is correct . There's a new video drama series about the difficult lives of struggling freelance classical musicians in New York City available from Amazon Studios called "Mozart in the Jungle " , based on the book of the same name by former New York freelance oboist Blair Tindall , who abandoned the life of a musician for journalism several years ago . The book came out about a decade ago , and was recently adapted into a video featuring among others , such well known actors as Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters and even an appearance by the renowned violinist Joshua Bell . I haven't seen the video series yet , but have read the book .
Ms. Tindall wrote a candid and even sordid description of her days as a freelance musician in New York after having graduated from music school . It's an uncertain and unpredictable way to earn a living , and while potentially rewarding artistically , a life which is often filled with boredom and frustration . A gig playing in the pit band of a Broadway musical pays well , but the constant repetition of the same show week after week can be deadly dull , and musicians often read books while not playing !
Ms. Tindall was able to get work as a substitute oboist with the New York Philharmonic , but when she auditioned for a permanent position there , nerves caused her to lay well below her best and she did not get the job , a coommon occurrance . She played with a wide variety of other groups in New York , but eventually , she she grew so frustrated and tired of performing she switched to journalism , and "Mozart in the Jungle" sold unusually well for a book on classical music .
It was not uncommon for freelance musicians to get gigs for sexual favors , sometimes with conductors , who often lorded it over the musicians in rehearsals . Drug use was rife among the freelance classical musicians , as well as promiscuous sex and even orgies ! In addition , legal drugs were often needed for the physical pains and injuries which are endemic to the field of classical musicians , rather li professional athletes ,
When people attend concerts by these musicians , they generally have no idea what a difficult and sordid life the musicians have . You may enjoy sausages , but you don't want to see how they are made, as the saying goes !
Having just seen President Obama's State of the Union address , I would like to discuss the state of classical music in the current year . I am convinced that despite the many problems it faces , classical music is far from being moribund and will continue to make the world a better place in which to live for the forseeable future . It has enriched the lives of countless people all over the world for many centuries , and will continue to do so .
Economic problems currently threaten the existence of symphony orchestras and opera companies in America , Canada, Europe and elsewhere . Some have gone under due to either lack of government support or faulty management , including the New York City Opera , Opera Bpston , the Green Bay symphony in Wisconsin , the Hamilton, Canada opera company , the Sacramento, California symphony and its opera company , La Petite Bande period instrument chamber orchestra in Belgiun , the London, Ontario symphony orchestra , the Brooklyn Philharmonic , the Napa Valley Philharmonic in California , several orchestras in Greece , and others .
Others , such as the Ulster orchestra in Northern Ireland, the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester , England , the Stuttgart Radio orchestra and the South West German radio orchestra in Baden-Baden , the Hague Philharmonic in the Netherlands , the Louisville orchestra in Kentucky , are seriously at risk of going under . This is by no means a complete list . Maintaining high quality musical organizations like these is an expensive proposition , and they are all non-profit . A for profit orchestra or opera company is an oxymoron !
Still , the vast majority of the world's orchestras and opera companies are alive and kicking , and overall standards of performance are higher than ever . There are some which are actually flourishing both economically and artistically , such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic , the San Francisco symphony and others .
Many world famous classical musicians passed away in 2014 , including such eminent conductors as Claudio Abbado ,Lorin Maazel , Tafael Fruhbeck De Burgos , Gerd Albrecht , Jerzy Semkow and others , and legendary opera singers Carlo Bergonzi, Licia Albanese, and Magda Oliviero ,etc , but a galaxy of great musicians still exists ; conductors, opera singers, instrumentalists etc .
The Metropolitan opera continues to offer high definitin live broadcasts of Saturday matinee performances in movie theaters all over America , and these can also be seen in Europe . These perfrmances also become available on DVD shortly after the performances . The internet makes it possible for anyone anywhere to see streamed performances by the world's greatest orchestras & opera companies and the world's greatest classical musicians .
In many ways , lovers of classical music have never had it so good ! It's so easy to obtain a staggerngly wide variety of classical repertoire on CD with the click of a mouse . You can find music by virtually any classical composer , from centuries ago to living ones . More classical music than you could ever imagine ! Never listen to anyone who says that classical music is dead or dying !
Some of Robert Schumann's most famous works are the piano concerto , his four symphonies , the piano cycle "Scenes from Chilshood ", the song "The Two Grenadiers ", etc .
For Felix Mendelssohn you want his symphies no 3 "Scottish ", inspired by his trip to that country , symphony no 4, "Italian" , inspired by a tour of Italy , his violin concerto , the symphonic poem "The Hebrides" , inspired by his trip to those remote Scottish islands . and his Biblical oratorio "Elijah ".
Johannes Brahms : his four symphonies, two piano concertos, violin concerto , German Requiem , based on verses from the Bible ,
Tragic overture, Academic Festical overture , Quintet for strings and piano , etc . Antonin Dvorak : Symphony no 9, the world famous "New World symphony, , symphonies 7.8 . Cello concerto , Slavonic Dances , Carneval overture , violin concerto . Bedrich Smetana, also Czech , "The Moldau " from his orchestral cycle "My Fatherland ". The opera "The Bartred Bride ."
The great German composer Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949 ) lived a life which encompassed much of both the 19th and 20 th centuries . His symphonic poems Don Juan , Till Eulenspiegel . Also Sprach Zarathustra (made famous by the classic film 2001 a space oddysey ) , Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleven (life of a hero ) are staples of the reprtoire .
Belgian composer Cesar Franck : Symphony in D minor . Hector Berlioz " Symphonie Fantastique , Harold in Italy , for viola and orchestra , Requiem , Suite from the oratorio "Romeo & Juliette ". Roman Carneval overture . Tchaikovsky : symphonies 4,5,6. Piano concerto no 1 . Violin concerto . Romeo & Juliette, for orchestra . The Nutcracker ballet . 1912 overture . Capriccio Italien for orchestra . Nikolai Rimsky -Korsakov : Scheherezade for orchestra . Capriccio Espagnol . Rachmaninov : Piano concertos 2,3, symphony no 2.
Moving into the 20 th century , we have such great composers as Stravinsky , Bartok , Prokofiev, Copland, Debussy , Ravel , Benjamin Britten , Samuel Barber, Prokofiev, Shostakovich , Some of the most famous works of the 20th century are travinsky's ballet score "The Furebird", "Petrushka" and the epoch-making "Rite of Spring ", the Concerto for orchestra by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok , the Planets, by English composer Gustav Holst , Copland's ballet scores "Billy the Kid", :"Appalachian Spring" , The "Classical " and fifth symphonies of Prokofiev , his 3d piano concerto , the symphonies, 1,5, 7, and 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich , the "Turangalila " symphony of French composer Olivier Messiaen , the violin concerto of Samuel Barber . The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is famous for his patriotic work "Finlandia , as well as his violin concerto ,. Try his symphonies 1,2, and 5.
There is so much else to explore and discover in classical music . These are just basic guidelines . Bo doubt I've left out some very fampous masterpieces . A good place to order classical CDs and DVDs is arkivmusic.com , which has a fantastically wide selection of classical music which is just a click away . Classicstoday .com has recommendations of recordings it considers to be outstanding . You'll never regret starting a classical CD collection ! Except for not being able to get everything you'd like to hear !
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